Hot Water

If there is one thing that a visitor to China will notice, it is the nation’s obsession with hot water. The default at every restaurant or café is to serve water that is piping hot. Either that, or boiled water cooled to room temperature.

There is a strong historical and cultural element to this: traditional Chinese medicine teaches that hot water is beneficial to the body, and conversely that drinking cold water is harmful. This belief in not agitating the body’s internal system with drastic temperature differences quickly became widespread.

In previous centuries, with fuel an expensive luxury, hot water was generally reserved for those most in need: the old, the sick, the pregnant. In the early 1800s, only in wealthier regions such as the southern Yangtze Delta was the wider population able to afford tiger stoves or 老虎灶. Consequently, when cholera broke out in northern China but spared the south, belief in the beneficial power of drinking hot water was further reinforced.

The habit even became national policy in 1952 when, as part of the Patriotic Health Campaign designed to combat a surge in domestic epidemics, children were exhorted to sip boiled water three times a day. And as any tourist can witness, the custom endures today, notwithstanding innumerable other traditions having been blithely abandoned. Even the youngest member of our Yuzu China team avoids cold water – especially in the winter – despite (or perhaps consequently) being in better health than the rest of us!